I get a lot of questions from people about how I became a sex educator. Students ask me during workshops, I get them in my DMs, and people even submit it through the form on my website. So, I figured I would finally write out a response. Usually people are asking because they are curious about becoming sex educators themselves, but sometimes, they’re just generally curious.
My journey into sex ed is my journey into sex ed, so just because I did something a certain way doesn’t mean you have to.
In fact, some of those routes aren’t even available anymore. People get into sex education through all sorts of ways. Some study something related to it in college (like sociology, psychology, or public health), some people work for health departments or community organizations, some people come to it through sex work, and others through past life experiences. There is no one right way to get into the sex ed industry, and this post is not to tell you how to become a sex educator. It’s just to share with you how I ended up on this pathway.
Just to repeat it:
Maybe one day I’ll publish an article about things that you can do to gain sex ed experience, but today is not that day (and honestly, the next several won’t be, either).
If you’re interested in becoming a sex educator, Cameron Glover has an e-book that details more of the options for “how.” The Center for Sex Education also has a collection of essays from educators about how they got into the field. The hardcover book is $30, but you can get the ebook for free here.
My Early Interest in Sex and Stuff
I’ve always been fascinated by bodies. When I was in elementary school, my mom got me the American Girl book The Care and Keeping of You and I obsessively read it. I was really into menstruation and would order free sample packs of tampons and pads so that I could take them apart and study what they looked like. (Yes, I am an only child.)
I first encountered porn when I was 10 while randomly perusing the internet. After that, I would routinely go to porn websites to see what different people’s bodies looked like (adult me knows that this is very unrealistic, but child-me wondered if it was really that common for people to have foot-long penises. It’s not.).
When I was younger, my mom was also very open about sexuality. I was 12 the first time we talked about birth control. My friends would often go to her if they had questions about sex or dating. That level of openness changed when I was in high school and actually having sex; at that point, my mom became much more nervous and generally approached the subject with “so…are you…having sex with [insert person’s name here]???” and I would reply “NO!” even if the real answer was actually “yes.”
My body obsession continued through high school. I actually read every single page of the info sheet that came with my birth control every single month – and researched it online for additional information. I spent a ton of time reading articles on Scarleteen’s website.
None of this meant that I was actually having good, safe, or healthy sex. I lacked the confidence to actually put any of my knowledge into practice; I rarely advocated for condom use, didn’t feel comfortable saying ‘no’ to things I didn’t want to do, and slept with people who were way too old for me.
If I had known that sex ed was a viable career path, I probably would have more actively pursued it earlier on. But I didn’t have any idea that it could be, because the only sex ed I got was from gym teachers who thought it was necessary to sit on the corner of their desk to teach sex ed (and who rarely taught any relevant info). When I was in college, that all started to change.
Figuring It Out in College
At the start of my first semester, I got involved with my campus’ Voices for Planned Parenthood organization (which is now called Generation Action). They were a new student organization, so I had more opportunities to be involved in a really hands-on way. I helped plan our campus’ first sex week and we brought a sex educator to campus. In her 2.5 hour workshop, I learned more than I had in an entire lifetime of bad sex ed classes and reading good sex ed content online.
And then I started to become pretty actively obsessed. I continued to work with the student group throughout all four years of college. I applied to intern at the non-profit that sex educator had founded (The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health) and began interning there the summer after my first year of college. Without The CSPH, I would not be a sex educator today. I was involved with them throughout all four years of college and even after (but we’ll come back to that in a bit).
In the midst of this, I was also dealing with my own past experiences of sexual violence and was realizing that I wanted to learn more about the violence prevention and survivor support world. I interned with my local rape crisis/domestic violence center, where I answered hotline calls and went with survivors to the hospital for forensic exams. I interned with them for my final two years of college and even trained their staff on how to be more trans and queer-inclusive in their services (I also led this training at the Philly Trans Wellness Conference in 2014).
My college offered an independent study inter-term in January, which allowed you to design your own course of study for the month. In my second year of college, I used my inter-term period to study how other colleges ran their Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming. In addition to studying how other small liberal arts colleges ran their events, I designed a program calendar for our campus’ SAAM and managed those events (my school was small enough that there weren’t staff members dedicated to this).
That first year, it didn’t go well. So, I did a post-SAAM needs assessment to learn from other students what events they wanted, and over the next two years, SAAM events became some of the most-attended events on our campus. In my final year of undergrad, I opened a resource center on campus for students to learn more about healthy relationships and sexuality and connect with local support services. I also had a handful of random experiences during college, like interning for a condom company.
None of this would have been possible without three things: mentorship from my supervisor at The CSPH, mentorship from my supervisor at SPARCC, and the ability to design my own independent study projects so that my student involvement could count for academic credit. All of the experiences I had during undergrad were invaluable, but I’ll be honest with you: I was overly involved as a student. I wasn’t able to do very strong (or strong to my standards) work in my normal classes because I was so focused on the events I was running, on growing the SHARE Center, and on my independent study programs.
My college experience absolutely helped me become a sex educator so soon after graduation, but my major wasn’t human sexuality or sex education. I officially studied literature/gender studies and wrote my thesis about fairy tale adaptations. You can be a sex educator with any undergraduate degree (even without an undergraduate degree in some cases).
Your requirements for study, advanced study, and certification will vary based upon the type of path you’re interested in following. Some jobs do specifically want people with public health or health education degrees (this is where those two resources from Cameron Glover and The CSE can come in handy, btw).
When I graduated, I accepted admission to a master’s in social work program. I moved, did the summer work…and then dropped out a week before fall classes started. I had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life and with my health, and there was no way I could afford (or even manage) school on top of it.
So, two months after moving to a new state for grad school, I ended up moving to Rhode Island to work on the education team at The CSPH. The CSPH was very much in flux when I started working there as a staff member, and my role changed a lot. Ultimately, I traveled to colleges across the country to teach sex ed workshops, but I also did some marketing for the organization.
At the time, the pay for staff at the Center was…not good. We were all hourly with fairly low hours caps (I made an hourly wage of $12 per hour for 5 hours per week, plus a percentage of the speaking fees for each workshop I taught). We all worked second jobs while working there, which was tough. After a year on staff, I left the Center because I didn’t see a stable career path for me and I was in a lot of debt. A lot has changed since then — there have been three different executive directors, and now, The Center is focusing heavily on paying staff fairly. They’ve paused their intern program until they can afford to pay their interns, and they don’t rely on low-hours staff anymore. Over the past few years, I’ve also rejoined The CSPH’s education team and am now one of their contracted educators.
When I left the Center I seriously contemplated leaving the human sexuality field entirely. This was my first year after graduating college, and I felt doubtful of my own abilities, disheartened by the state of the industry, and just really overwhelmed by all that had happened. So, I took a break.
From Side Gigs to Self-Employment
About one year into my break, a student messaged me on Instagram to ask if I would teach a workshop on their campus. I said yes and slowly started coming out of my hiatus to build my education business on the side. That was in 2017, and I didn’t start working for myself full-time until the end of 2019. Everything I did in-between was in addition to separate, full-time work (I was the director of marketing for a software company at the time).
In addition to the occasional campus booking, I started live-streaming with O.School and doing marketing consulting for a few different sexuality organizations. I applied to O.School through a general casting call (they’ve since retired their live-streaming program and I don’t work with O.School anymore), but other gigs came to me through networking.
There was a period in time where I was unemployed, and during that, I reached out to people I knew in the field and asked if they needed a volunteer. Those volunteer positions almost always led to paid work. I also continued to connect with organizations, serving on the board of a non-profit (before relocating to Florida) and serving as a member of the planning committee for the North Carolina Sexual Health Conference (which I still do).
In early 2019 though, I was exhausted. I was tired of working full-time and having more side hustles than I could count. My full-time job paid relatively well, so I was able to start planning and saving to leave it and work for myself full-time. I only felt comfortable doing this because of the contacts I had — schools were still reaching out to me for workshops, I had marketing clients, and other companies were reaching out to me to create content for them.
I saved about six months’ expenses, but honestly, I should have saved more. I started working for myself full-time in October 2019 (almost exactly a year ago!) and three weeks later, went to the ER for an emergency appendectomy. You don’t really imagine that you’re going to have to get emergency surgery three weeks into working for yourself, and even a simple surgery like an appendix removal takes a lot of energy out of you. Working for the next month was tough, and I’m still paying for some of the random surgical bills. Then the COVID-19 pandemic started and all of my remaining spring workshops were canceled because students were sent home. Before I left my job I had saved enough money to cover several months’ expenses and a potential animal emergency, but I would have been a good bit less stressed if I had been able to save up some more.
Some people thrive working on teams, but I thrive working independently. I always knew I would work for myself at some point, and I was lucky to have developed skills that are necessary for self-employment (like marketing, e-commerce management, basic accounting, and industry relationship-building).
Now, my days as a self-employed sex educator don’t primarily center around actually delivering sex ed content to people. Some days I’m developing new workshops, some days I’m writing scripts for You Deserve Good Sex, some days I’m writing sex ed articles for other website, and some days, I’m doing a lot of accounting. It’s all part of the job, and I like it that way.